Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The inevitable has happened. I've ventured into weekday baking adventures rewarding me with sleepless nights and going through following days at work in zombie mode. But as they say in Mama Mia, how can I resist you, oh best chocolate cake, cocoa brownies and root beer float cupcakes. Baking to feed others is pure joy. The latest calling was for Kevin's birthday.
Over a dinner of Vijay's lips-smacking good potato gratin and chicken pot pie one night, while sampling my birthday cake, Kevin was thrown the golden question I've been asking anyone I remotely have a chance to bake for. "What cake would you like for your birthday?" A brief moment of contemplation ensued. "I like tiramisu." Perfect!
For the longest time I have been looking for a tiramisu lover to bake this cake for. I can't be the judge for this cake because I've never tasted one.
Now, there there.
Before all of you fall off your chairs or collect your jaws from the floor, let me explain. When I eat out dessert is not always a must. On occasions when I do end my meals with a sweet note, chances are it's going to be something chocolate or something citrusy, to be enjoyed over a cup of good coffee. A tiramisu never attracted me as much as a key lime pie, lemon meringue tart, chocolate mud cake, chocolate mousse cup or better still, chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice cream. Both of us are not really dessert connoisseurs as well.
So it goes without saying that the person evaluating this cake must really like his/her tiramisu. With great excitement I baked on Tuesday night so that Carol can collect it the next day. Kevin didn't think I was seriously going to bake for him so it was a nice surprise.
Everything went well till it came to the mascarpone cream filling. As I have feared, I overbeat the heavy cream slightly, yet again. Mixed into the cheese, the filling turned into a curdled mess which I'm sure tasted delicious but will not in any way end up on a birthday cake I'm making. This time I was prepared, I bought enough mascarpone cheese to make another batch of filling, just in case. Saying a silent prayer after cleaning up the KitchenAid bowl, I beat up one cup of whipping cream, a few tablespoons of heavy cream and about four tablespoons of icing sugar.
Luckily for the birthday boy the second attempt turned out a smooth and creamy filling which tasted great as well. By this time the resident photographer was half asleep and was instructed to hit the sack while I showered and waited for the frosted cake to chill for an hour before decorating it. I must say I'm starting to like this cake decorating business. That silent, solitary moment at one in the morning when I carefully dusted the cake with cocoa powder and dotted it with our favorite chocolate covered espresso beans was the best part of the entire process.
The next day I rushed home after work to dress the incredible smelling cake further with shavings of Valrhona chocolate. We almost reached for the knife while photographing and preparing the cake for delivery. Carol arrived to pick it up before we could cut out a slice of the evil-looking loot. The thank you call came slightly after midnight reporting that the cake was indeed a delight, not that I would doubt Dorie Greenspan or Smitten Kitchen any day.
Will I do this again for another birthday? In a heartbeat. Now who's next?
Adapted barely from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen
If you read Deb's post and the ensuing comments, most people find the original recipe a little dry. I doubled the espresso syrup and extract and used up almost all of it. The result is just perfect so I highly recommend it. I'll also include more filling in between the layers the next time.
For the cake layers:
- 2 cups cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
For the espresso extract:
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 2 tablespoons boiling water
For the espresso syrup:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy
For the filling and frosting:
- 1 8-ounce container mascarpone
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (Deb note: I used brandy)
- 1 cup cold heavy cream
- 2 1/2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or about 1/2 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
- Chocolate-covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)
- Cocoa powder, for dusting
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To make the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.
To make the extract: Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.
To make the syrup: Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.
To make the filling and frosting: Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth. Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.
To assemble the cake: If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.
For the frosting, whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. If the frosting looks as if it might be a little too soft to spread over the cake, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or so. Refrigerate the cake too.
With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top. If you want to decorate the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans, press them into the filling, making concentric circles of beans or just putting some beans in the center of the cake.
Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day) before serving – the elements need time to meld.
Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa. I got Vijay to cut me strips of parchment paper and placed it lightly over the cake to create the checkered pattern, and shaved a layer of Valrhona chocolate over it with a microplane after adding the chocolate covered espresso beans.
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